Alumni story: Inspiration from the Unconventional MBA

1.28.2016 Alumni News, Article, Careers, Charlotte Center, General, Leadership

By Alicia W. Roberts

Meg Seitz (MBA ’13) has always seized at any opportunity to grow.

It started at age 5 with a sidewalk stand to sell seashells in the dead of winter in Pittsburgh. Bottom line: no sales – even after she added magic rocks to the inventory. But it didn’t deter her. Setbacks and challenges rarely do.

Which is how she found herself – English lit major, high school teaching veteran and new lululemon athletica manager – pursuing her MBA at the Wake Forest University School of Business. She started classes at WFU Charlotte Center, where she had to work through a lot of agony – and near failure – for a semester before she finally figured out how what she was learning applied to her career.

She’s a prime example of how the MBA program can lead students in unexpected – and completely unconventional – directions.

Now, she is the founder and managing creative partner of toth shop, directing branding, marketing, social and public relations strategy for partners nationwide.

In that first fall semester, she couldn’t have told you she’d be here – a business owner, applying everything she gleaned at WFU and sharing what she learned to a roomful of alumni and prospective students at Charlotte Center. (Her very apropos presentation title: Lessons From the Unconventional MBA.)

But, then again, looking at her career path, it all makes perfect sense.

To help explain her trajectory, Seitz uses an unusual format for her CV, modeled after the poem “My Life,” written by Lyn Hejinian in 1980. The original poem features a focused and descriptive line for every significant event in the poet’s life.

The version Seitz offers covers just a decade – ages 18-28. It starts with, “Get a summer job as a camp counselor; run the entire camp the next year.” It ends with “Apply to the Wake Forest University School of Business with the first sentence of my essay reading, ‘I am a maverick.’”

Seitz wants you to understand that in between there were plenty of stops like “Move home to Pittsburgh with no real plan”; “Work at the mall on Christmas Eve. Think to myself this is the ultimate low point”; and more than one “Get told I’m wasting my talent.”

The “My Life” exercise helped Seitz identify some patterns in her career that she said certainly will help her make decisions in the future:

  • She loves to sign up for opportunities she has never done before (like an MBA).
  • She thrives on building and creating something from nothing.
  • Everything counts when it comes to work experience. What she learned as a sales associate at Ann Taylor became pivotal in helping her students sell yearbook ads when she taught high school English and in opening Charlotte’s first lululemon store.

Now, back to that MBA. When, as a new student, Seitz received the list of the fields in which other students were working – applied economics, electrical engineering, computer science – “I totally psyched myself out,” she said. No one else was a manager at lululemon – or anything close to it.

She remembers herself slumped in more than one chair that first semester, feeling like a failure (and, she says, literally failing classes).

“I think I was struggling because I couldn’t find my way in,” she says. “ … I couldn’t find a creative solution that was going to work for me.”

Then she took a leadership class taught by Dr. Sherry Moss.

And it finally clicked. She said she found her place and started building her support team among those engineers and economists. “I started to blend what was happening at Wake to the rest of my life,” she said.

Seitz used Moss’ book in leadership exercises with the team at lululemon. Dr. Brook Saladin’s course helped her rework floor sales at the store. Ideas she pondered in Dr. Adam Hyde’s class led to a piece she wrote for Huffington Post, originally titled “The Economics of a Pair of Pants,” about how young teen girls were saving their babysitting money for lululemon yoga pants.

“I was starting to think about the connections between business and the way I thought,” Seitz said.

And then the big light bulb moment happened: when her friend, Jamie Brown, approached her about collaborating on a book series that would introduce children to entrepreneurship.

“It was a way to connect English and business,” Seitz said.

The “Bea Is for Business” book series was born, complete with lesson plans. Seitz said everything she was learning during her second year at WFU helped shape the project. And all of the questions she was asking in class are the same questions Bea and her friends work through in the books.

Bea also renewed Seitz’s inspiration to write, which led to toth shop, named for her great-grandmother, Erzsabet Toth, who immigrated to the U.S. from Hungary by herself at age 17.

Erzsabet’s courage steels Seitz when she needs the support – and she needs it a lot, as a risk-taker and a maverick. She quit lululemon to take toth shop full time a year ago.

“I feel that doubt and that risk, like, all the time,” she said. “Mustering up the courage is what separates me from the person still sitting on the idea. It’s managing your fears strategically.”

Seitz’s story definitely resonated with Jonathan Isley, a prospective student at Charlotte Center. He directs operations and logistics for NASCAR productions, coordinating television crews during events. He came to Seitz’s talk because he wanted to learn more about the program and meet some people.

“It’s made me more interested than I was, especially the focus of her talk being on unconventional students,” he said. “I feel like I might be in a similar boat to that. I wasn’t a business major and I do television work right now. I always had the assumption that people who go for an MBA were business majors or worked for the banks.”

But, because of Seitz, he’s excited about an MBA.

Alicia W. Roberts is a freelance writer, editor and communicator, based in Charlotte, N.C.